How to Deal with Toxic Parents

Growing up with toxic parents can present a variety of mental, emotional, and sometimes, physical challenges for children and adolescents. If you know that your parents are toxic, you are not alone. Here are some tips to best deal with them and protect your well-being.

Key takeaways:

Both mothers and fathers can become toxic toward their children at one point or another throughout their lives, if not consistently. When you know that your parent’s actions, words, and/or behaviors are causing you mental, emotional, or physical harm, these could be signs that they are toxic. Should you come to this conclusion, there are resources, coping skills, and tips you can use to survive your childhood and thrive as an adult.

Set and uphold strong boundaries

As a child, it can be difficult to know how to establish and uphold boundaries. However, this can become easier when we get into our teen years. The most important thing to remember is that if someone is hurting you in any way or making you feel uncomfortable, you are not the one at fault. It’s important to speak up about it, tell them ‘no,’ or that you do not want to do anything they want you to do that makes you feel uncomfortable, and tell a trusted adult.

Confiding in a trusted adult

As kids, it can be natural to want to protect your parents, even if they act out in ways you do not think are right. However, if you are being verbally, mentally, physically, or sexually abused, it’s important to tell someone. Not telling someone could allow the toxic or abusive behaviors to persist, and your parents may end up hurting others as well. Speak to a counselor at school or a trusted community leader such as a youth pastor, friend, or teacher. If there is fighting and conflict between your parents, you can also speak out about it, especially if it becomes physical or violent.

Find a safe haven or healthy outlet

If you ever feel unsafe, it can be helpful to have a safe place where you can go to get away from the toxicity you feel at home. Maybe this is a treehouse, fort, a tent you make in your room, your friend’s house, or anywhere you feel comfortable. Find a healthy outlet if you have intense feelings about your parent’s toxicity. Try enjoying your favorite hobby, sport, science or art project, or anything that gives you joy and allows you to express yourself emotionally or physically. These kinds of healthy releases can be beneficial.

Remember that you are not the problem

Toxic parents can sometimes make their children feel like they are the reason they are behaving so terribly. This is not true. You did not cause the toxic behavior of your parents, and it is not your fault. You are also not responsible for your parents. They are responsible for you, and if they cannot be responsible, you have to do what you must to protect yourself and ensure you are being cared for properly. This includes speaking out about toxic behavior if you are being hurt.

Make a list of the things you are grateful for

When life at home becomes difficult, it can lead to feelings of sadness, anxiety, depression, and more. When you’re feeling down, making a list of the things you are grateful for can help you feel better and put things into perspective. Make a list of everything that makes you happy, and turn to it in times of struggle. This is a tip that positive psychologists use, as they believe that cultivating a mindset of gratitude can help combat the negative things that come our way.

Counteract any negative self-talk or thought patterns

If there is a lot of negativity toward you from a parent, it can get into your head, and you may find yourself believing negative things about yourself. Negative thoughts or self-talk can creep in. When this happens, it’s important to challenge each negative thought about yourself with three positive thoughts. Ask yourself, “How realistic are the negative thoughts?” and “What if the situation was flipped and positive conclusions were true?” Then, think about what the most realistic scenario is most likely to be. This can help keep the negative thoughts at bay and preserve your self-esteem.

What to do if you realize you are a toxic parent

If you see any warning signs of being a toxic parent, you have already completed the first step toward getting help and changing. Many toxic personality traits or behaviors develop over time due to things that have happened in our personal lives, starting from the time we are children. These can develop into toxic behaviors that can be difficult to control. If you believe that your actions, words, or behaviors have been harmful to your children, it’s important to talk to them about it. Tell them what you believe you’ve done wrong, and apologize. It’s also important to forgive yourself for your past behaviors. The help of a licensed marriage and family therapist may be necessary to help you curb your behaviors and develop a healthy home environment for you and your children. If there is abuse in your home, it’s important to seek help immediately.

No human on earth is perfect, and we all have our moments where we do or say things that we regret. Taking ownership of our faults, establishing healthy boundaries, and telling others when they have done something that has hurt us is the first step toward making things better. Seek help and support if you are being hurt by your parents in any way or if you are a parent who is behaving in toxic ways toward your children. Owning your mistakes and seeking help and forgiveness is the first step toward your recovery.

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